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Can We Bring Back Riskier Playgrounds?

Until the 1980s, playgrounds were spaces of adventure and art.
Children climb on sculpture-like structures in this New York City landscape playground, designed by M. Paul Friedberg, in 1966.
Children climb on sculpture-like structures in this New York City landscape playground, designed by M. Paul Friedberg, in 1966.Lady Allen of Hurtwood Archives, Coventry, U.K.

A slide, swings, maybe a seesaw or sandbox: These are the usual elements of today’s playground. We’ve become so accustomed to their uniformity that it’s hard to believe that playgrounds used to be something different.

From their beginnings in the late 19th century until the 1980s, public playgrounds were spaces that would likely horrify today’s American parents. Cities set aside areas for children to build things with wood, hammers, and nails—without parental supervision. Funky sculptures to play on or in made for less safe, but exhilarating, exploration.